Very Merrytime Christmas Cruise Info & Review
We recently did a Very Merrytime Christmas sailing aboard Disney Cruise Line and thought it’d be worth sharing photos, info, and our review of the voyage. Our cruise was a 4-night trip from Port Canaveral, Florida (near Walt Disney World) on the Disney Dream, but these holiday cruises are offered fleet-wide in November and December.
These Very Merrytime voyages promise everything of a normal itinerary, including Pirate Night, holiday-themed atrium entertainment acts, and a stop at Castaway Cay. Disney Cruise Line’s private island is also decked out for the holidays with garland, and icon Christmas tree, and more.
Aboard each Disney Cruise Line ship, there are also entertainment highlights, themed activities for kids, youth parties & crafts, and interactive options. Of course, there’s also a variety of exclusive, holiday-themed DCL merchandise and gifts. In our estimation, this all sounds better than it is in execution…
We’ll start with some basic background info about Disney Cruise Line’s Very Merrytime sailings…
Very Merrytime Cruise Info & Entertainment
Mickey’s Tree-Lighting Magic – When you walk onto your Disney Cruise Line ship on day one, the Christmas tree and garland lights aren’t yet on. This is because there’s a show featuring Disney characters, Christmas music, crew members, and more in this tree-lighting ceremony that makes these festive lights twinkle.
Santa’s Winter Wonderland Ball – Santa and Mrs. Claus invite in some special guests on each Very Merrytime sailing in this performance. This special holiday gathering featuring Broadway-style entertainment (per Disney–we’d say that’s overselling it), classic holiday tunes, Mickey & friends, and snow in the atrium.
Christmas Character Costumes – The costumes that the Disney characters don during Mickey’s Tree-Lighting Magic Ceremony and Santa’s Winter Wonderland Ball are also worn throughout the cruise during meet & greets. The Navigator App specifies meet-and-greet times, but not attire.
Castaway Cay – Disney Cruise Line’s private island is decked for the holidays with a tropical flair. An icon Christmas tree, holiday island music, garland, and even snow flurries greet guests arriving to the island.
Gingerbread House – Each Disney Cruise Line ship features a life-size gingerbread house in the atrium, created by the Crew Members from scratch as they compete against each other for the most creative and whimsical creation.
See Ya Real Soon – The holiday version of See Ya Real Soon is modified, featuring the Dickens Carolers who sing “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” As with Epcot’s now extinct fireworks, this was a perfect way to end the cruise during the Christmas season. This show also provides another opportunity for guests to meet the characters, in a rushed-but-efficient process.
There isn’t enough Christmas. That’s pretty much it, in a single sentence. Don’t get us wrong–we love Disney Cruise Line and had a blast on this sailing. However, this isn’t simply a sailing that coincidentally occurs around Christmas-time, it’s actively marketed by Disney as a Very Merrytime Cruise. From that perspective, it falls woefully short.
First, the decorations. It’s nice to see the atriums of the gorgeous Disney Cruise Line ships decorated, but disappointing that these are generic Christmas ornaments, garland, and lights. They look nice, but there’s nothing on-theme about them, which is a bit of a letdown if you’ve been to the resorts at Walt Disney World around the holidays.
Beyond the ship atrium, there just isn’t much in terms of decor. There are trees in the lobby of each restaurant and scattered in a few other spots, but not much. A few wreaths and scattered pieces of garland, but nothing (that I can recall) that was even illuminated outside the atrium.
Castaway Cay does have an on-theme Christmas tree, which is really well done. Definitely the best photo op of the entire Very Merrytime Christmas Cruise.
Beyond that…Castaway Cay also does not have much. This would’ve been totally fine and more understandable if the ship had an adequate amount of decor.
Then there’s the entertainment. Three shows might sound like a decent amount, but that would be really overselling each. The tree lighting is pretty short and the See Ya Real Soon is a modified version of a normal (also short) goodbye.
Santa’s Winter Wonderland Ball is decent, but it’s also way too short, and the substance of the show is over far too quickly. Disney describes these as “Broadway-style” entertainment, but that’s not even remotely accurate. These are not proper shows, they’re mostly character greetings with a mild musical component. If you’re expecting Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration or even A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas, lower your expectations.
The Dickens Carolers are great in the few moments they’re given to shine, but those are over way too quickly. (If our in-room survey is any indication, they roam the ship and perform carols, but we never saw this.)
A proper stage show featuring the Dickens Carolers in the Walt Disney Theatre would’ve been awesome, but we would’ve been content with much less. Something–anything–of substance would’ve been nice. As it stands, there’s way too much of an emphasis on the Disney characters being introduced and waving, and too little on…literally anything else.
Speaking of the Disney characters, they are one of the few Christmas bright spots. Each of the Fab Five (or is it Sensational Six now?) has multiple holiday-themed outfits, and they rotate in these costumes for meet & greets throughout the Very Merrytime cruise. If your primary concern is meeting a range of characters in rare costumes, you’ll probably leave very satisfied.
We enjoyed these character meet & greets, but they were not our primary motivation for taking the cruise. We were expecting something more akin to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Sea. We would’ve even settled for a holiday version of Star Wars Day at Sea, which we experienced earlier in the year and really enjoyed.
Speaking of which, we’ve previously done two cruises with a Star Wars and Frozen Day at Sea, and each of those single days offered more substance than the entirety of this Very Merrytime Cruise. It’s worth emphasizing that those are marketed as normal cruises with the themed day added to select dates after itineraries go on sale.
In any case, these other themed ‘day at sea’ cruises provide a template for what Disney Cruise Line could do to make the Very Merrytime Cruise satisfying as a Christmas-time experience. Add a deck party, more substantive stage show, daytime entertainment, themed menus & desserts, scavenger hunt, and decorations. (On the plus side, the themed cups were a decent touch.)
We’d personally go a step further and replace the tired and underwhelming Pirate Night offerings with something holiday-centric. Use the same fireworks but set them to Christmas music.
Have a nighttime stage show. Encourage guests to done their holiday finery and get dressed up in yuletide attire. These are not unrealistic expectations–Disney Cruise Line does all of these things well on other cruises, so it’s perplexing that they drop the ball with Christmas.
Overall, our Disney Cruise Line experience was still exceptional, and we remain of the belief that DCL offers a premium product worthy of the premium pricing, elevated level of service, and high standards…at least with all of the normal offerings. Our disappointment here comes in comparing the Very Merrytime Cruise to other days at sea we’ve experienced, as well as Disney Christmas entertainment in the parks.
We wouldn’t hesitate to take another Disney cruise, but will likely avoid November and December in the future. These itineraries are more expensive (at least, in our experience) than their counterparts in January and February, and we’d prefer to save the money and do one of the discounted off-season sailings. With that said, if you’re looking to do a family cruise around the holidays and are only looking for mild dashes of Christmas cheer, there’s no reason to actively avoid the Very Merrytime Cruises. Just don’t go out of your way to book one, either.
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If you’ve done a Very Merrytime Christmas Cruise, did you have any similar disappointment? Did it live up to your expectations? Do you think we’re being too hard on it? Is this seasonal offering something you’d like to experience on Disney Cruise Line? Do you agree or disagree with our review? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
While we love Disney and have done a 7 night Disney cruise, I suggest people wanting Disney magic to stick to the parks. From a cruise standpoint they are grossly over priced. They do not do cruising better than the other premium cruise lines, they simply charge a LOT more because Mickey is on board. We just got off our 2nd christmas cruise in Princess cruises and it was fabulous.
I actually did the Very Merrytime Cruise on the Dream for Christmas. We spent Christmas Day on Castaway Cay.
I was happy with the Christmas events. We had multiple visits with Santa Claus and story time with Mrs. Claus. We got hot cocoa on Christmas morning at the gingerbread house, along with a variety of treats.
Each of the restaurants had Christmas decorations.
Castaway Cay had special island-themed Christmas music all day (such as “Would you like to spend Christmas on Christmas Island” and a Jamaican-sounding version of “Jingle Bells”).
It helped that many people decorated their stateroom doors with festive magnets, garland, stockings, and more.
It was my first Disney Cruise and it was incredibly magical.
I agree that people decorating their stateroom doors (myself included) made it more festive. But I shouldn’t be relying on myself and other customers to pay even more for our own supplies to make the ship more festive when we’ve already paid extra
I’ve never done a Disney Cruise, but I found Christmas on Disney, including the MVMCP to be an extreme disappointment.
Wow – I 100% agree! We went on one in late November, and I just expected so much more. I wanted more decorations and mainly just the overall feel of Christmas. It was fun and we did have a great time, but there is so much potential and they just seem to limit it to the Atrium. Did love the theme cups though. And we did buy the room decoration package with the blanket and hanging Christmas stuff, which I would totally recommend. I felt like our room was more themed than the ship. So much potential just fell short.
I totally agree with the lack of Christmas decor. We also paid for the room to be decorated and loved walking into the sparkly hanging decorations and the Xmas blanket Is SO soft…totally worth paying the extra. Telling guests to wear holiday attire one night for dinner would be good and I also agree with the idea of making pirate night Christmasy. If we do another Disney Cruise, I will not be paying extra for the holidays (only did it this time because it was the only weekend we could go).
We went on a Disney Cruise the first week of the new year a few years ago and I could walk around with Disney music above my head for my entire life. The decor was minimal, and I guess they weren’t doing the lighting ceremony then, or we missed it.
It was a 4d out of Galveston and we had one nice day at sea….then a storm hit and followed us the rest of the way. We had minimal inside pirate party with not enough room for everyone, and everything else was canceled. No fireworks, nothing at all on the deck (blocked off all together b/c of the storm), nothing you would pay extra for with it being Disney and they didn’t seem to have backup plans. We need a redo.
Has anyone been on a Halloween on the High Seas cruise? Better theming compared to Christmas cruise?
we LOVED HOTHS. it’s so much fun. dressing up (and the vast majority of people participate), trick or treating (you can go through as many times as you wish), character costumes, jack and sally, small shows. all so much fun.
I did with my two kids who were 12 and 14 at the time. We dressed in costume all three nights and were practically the only people who did at all. Halloween decorations were fun, but Halloween celebration/themed interactions and activities were limited to a single night for a couple of hours. We were obviously too old for every planned activity (similar to school carnival ring toss, etc). No themed movies or music. No themed costuming for characters. We had a good time, regardless, as Halloween just happened to coincide with the cruise dates we wanted. But as a fan of all things Halloween, it was a bummer.
That’s really odd. We did our first Halloween cruise this past year and our experience was quite a bit different–most people dressed up, the trick-or-treating was fun, and there was a very cool ‘4D’ showing of Nightmare Before Christmas the very first night that made use of the show theater and had lots of interactive effects that went with the movie. I think I saw each character in more than one costume as well! It was only a three-night cruise but it seemed jam-packed with Halloween stuff (though I was annoyed that they kept the stupid ‘pirate night’ thing going. I’m totally over that).
My husband and I have been on the Halloween cruise several times, and the only people who seem to dress up, are the ones with children. It would be nice if more of the children free adults would dress up as well. I also wish they would get rid of the Pirates night as well. It’s time to introduce something new and fresh. On another note, in looking at the list of excursions for the international cruises, I wish they had more options. If you are taking a seven day cruise with 4 stops, 2 out of the 4 ports that you are visiting, have either very limited options to choose from or an excursion that is totally boring.
First let me say I am a huge Disney fan! Walt Disney World at Christmas is my very Favorite place to be! We have done Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party multiple years and it never gets old. This year instead of the parks we did a 5 night Very Merry Time Cruise out of Miami with a stop at Grand Cayman and Castaway Cay. To say we were disappointed is an understatement. Much like you we found the Christmas Decour to be lacking everywhere except the atrium. We found the food to be subpar compared to other cruise lines and the availability of the characters to be lacking. We were so looking forward to the fireworks but had no idea that you needed to be on a specific side of the ship to see them. We had the 8:15 dinner spot and by the time we got up on deck there was not a lot of room to stand. We ended up only seeing the very top of the fireworks that only lasted about 10 minutes tops. We were expecting something similar to the fireworks in the park.
With all that being said, the nightly shows were awesome! Broadway caliber. We really enjoyed Castaway Cay. Beautiful beaches and the water was warm and crystal clear. We would have loved to stay there multiple days. We enjoyed Rapunzels Royal Table, it was by far the best meal we had all week and it felt like Disney with the characters walking around and the shows.
I am glad that we went and we enjoyed ourselves, after all it was a cruise, but for the money we will definitely stick to going to the parks and booking a 7 night cruise on Royal Caribbean.
While I do agree that the decor is lacking, it does exceed what other lines do. Although, as it’s marketed….they should really do ALOT more. However, I think the main thing Disney has going for it IS the food, specifically main dining. I always thought it far exceeds the other lines. I usually go on a Disney cruise once a year, and 3-4 Royal Caribbean cruise per year, and I’ve always thought Disney provides so much more in service, food and theming than the others, however, Royals ships just provide more to do.
I love the Duffy sweater
Thanks for the info. Thinking of booking a 4 day cruise in December 2020. Good to know how little the Christmas theme carries through. A little disappointed to read about the shows too.
Great review! Good to know that there is some Christmas Spirit, but nothing to go out of your way to pay extra for. Most places you visit (the mall; church, etc) in December have this level of Christmas spirit so maybe Disney needs to rethink think this and ramp it up a notch. It would be interesting to see how it compares with Christmas decor on other cruise lines.
In my opinion Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and being at Disney during Christmas season is absolutely jaw dropping in terms of decor and entertainment, so the cruiseline would have a lot to live up to. I think a “Christmas day at Sea” with a deck party, evening show and Christmas fireworks with themed dinner would be AMAZING! They’d probably bump the cruise price up $1000 too 🙂
We were on your sailing as well but since this was our first sailing, we were not disappointed in the Merrytime aspect of it. It was enough for us.
My issues were the size of the pools. My older two kids are on a swim team and 2 small pools with 50 people in them, with them being frequently drained, was disappointing. We regret staying on the ship in Nassau.
I also would not dine at Palo again. My husband and I cruised on a Royal Caribbean in January and upgraded to 3 of the upcharge meals. They were great. Palo had great service but was not any better than our dining room nights.
On another note, we did 6 park day’s after the cruise and the last night did the Xmas party. I could see how your would expect something more similar to that. Love that your smell gingerbread when the gingerbread mean come by! Our party was Dec 17th and we had horrible storms. 1st parade was canceled and most rides were shut down. There was a mass exodus from MK. We stayed for the 11 pm parade but my 3 year old was asleep in the stroller. They did offer flyers when leaving for a single day ticket or another party date. We were leaving the next day and Disney refunded our party tickets. 600 dollars!!
Crowds were too much for us- I will not be coming back in December. It was worth getting everyone up at 5:30am to get on Ride of Resistance, however!
A few years ago we did a Merrytime cruise on the Magic. I found that to be far better than what we experienced on the Dream this year. The tree lighting was more involved and enjoyable and the pacing of the show was better. Also, I feel the smaller crowds and more intimate atriums on the classic ships helps with the Christmas appeal of the shows hosted there.
PS: I was on the same cruise you were and said hi to you both as you were waiting in line to see Donald. It was great to see you in person. I also thought I saw you guys walking on the Contemporary footpath from the Magic Kingdom on Saturday night around 11PM. I didn’t want to seem like a crazed fan, so I let you be, lol. I love your site. Have a great holiday.
Thanks for the feedback on your experience on the Magic v. Dream.
Nice to see you on the ship. That was almost certainly us that you saw on the Contemporary path Saturday night, too. Happy holidays to you, too! 🙂
Great write up and photos as usual. Merry Christmas Tom to you and yours! I look forward to reading your great blog in 2020!
Merry Christmas to you, too! 🙂
Agree 100% with your review here. We took a 7-day Very Merrytime Cruise for our Honeymoon last November after attending the 1st Christmas party and while everything about the cruise was absolutely stellar, the Christmas offerings did leave alot to be desired. The meet and greets were a highlight for us personally as we found the costumes to be great (and since we were on our honeymoon we got some very awesome character photos). Wouldn’t hesitate to take another Disney Cruise at all, but will avoid the holiday ones.
sidebar: WHERE IS THAT SWEATER FROM?!
On the 7-night cruise, did the Dickens Carolers roam the ship? (That’d be one explanation for it appearing on our survey, despite not having happened on the shorter cruise.)
The Duffy sweater is from Tokyo DisneySea.
Not on our 7 night this year. We too were very disappointed. AT the parks and resorts the Christmassy atmosphere felt so much more omnipresent than on the cruise. And with the atrium crowds, our kids could never see any of the shows on the ships. We will stick to regular sailings from now on.
Didn’t see the carolers on the 7-day cruise last Nov either. Considering how frequently the wife and I were playing Midship Detective Agency, I suspect we *would* have seen them
I agree with you on the whole – since these are marketed as Very Merrytime cruises, guests should expect a high level of Christmas cheer, events, and theming. Just to provide a counterpoint – we were on the very first Very Merrytime cruise on the Magic this year, which sailed on November 10th. Now … we’re not grinches, but we’re not also in full Christmas swing by early November. (We booked the cruise because it was an exceptionally great deal on OGT – not for the Christmas overlay). So this “light” theming and programming actually worked really well for what we wanted. There were enough Christmas events that we could go to if we wanted to (standouts for our small children were the gingerbread decorating, storytime with Mrs. Claus and the tree lighting, as well as the Christmas-themed character greets), and we were able to get a picture for our family Christmas card in front of the atrium tree. But, there was also all of the other great OG Disney cruise stuff that really sells the cruise for us.
Perhaps Disney should take a blend approach with these Very Merrytime “light” cruises throughout November, and then ramping up to some really heavily themed programs in December. I get that logistically that may make things more difficult, so it probably won’t ever happen. But then you get the general Christmas-y ambiance for a month and then can hit harder with the “Santa Clause Day at Sea” toward the end of the year.
Some fair points there!
We actually wanted to do an earlier cruise, both because those were cheaper and due to November being less crowded aboard the ship. However, timing-wise it just didn’t work out. It was already difficult to time this one after the opening of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance but before Disney’s Riviera Resort.
I still think January is the best option. Even cheaper than November and less crowded, plus not sacrificing that much in terms of entertainment/decor.
So this is a dumb question but are there photopass people on cruises or do you just have to take your own pictures? If they are on there, is that part of what you’ve already paid for or is it extra?
Oh – that’s EXTRA$ If I recall, you can buy individual photo’s or you can buy a package and select which ones you want. OR you buy them all. On our first cruise, I think we bought like 10 for around $200! You can take as many as you like, and pick your 10 from that. On our next cruise, which was a Star Wars day at sea, we paid $300 for all you want, so we REALLY took a lot of pictures on that cruise.
I’m glad someone else could answer the pricing question. The first (and only) time we checked pricing for PhotoPass on DCL, my jaw about dropped. It still boggles my mind that Shutters has such long lines on the last night of each cruise. I guess we’re more frugal than most, and the mentality is that if you’ve already spent several thousands of dollars on a cruise, what’s a few hundred more to preserve the memories?
We always just hand off my DSLR to the character attendant. Sometimes the results aren’t great (they’re clearly more used to handling phones rather than actual cameras), but our keeper rate is about 80%, which is better than in-park PhotoPass.
There are some photographers but they pictures are not included. Having said that, they are just as happy to take a photo for you with your camera or phone as they are in the parks 🙂
the best deal is the photo book option. you get to pick somewhere around 40 photos and they are placed in a premade scrapbook. if there are really special prints we will buy those also, but the book is by far the best deal.
I thought I was the only one who felt this way! I said the exact thing to my husband when we got back home from our 4-night Merrytime Cruise aboard the Dream this past November!. Your mention of how the decorations on board paled in comparison to the Disney Parks holiday setup resonated with me. And yes, while I shouldn’t complain that I was able to experience a Disney Cruise, it was hard not to have expectations since this cruise was a themed cruise.
“And yes, while I shouldn’t complain that I was able to experience a Disney Cruise, it was hard not to have expectations since this cruise was a themed cruise.”
I really think Disney fans need to get out of the mentality of *not* complaining because at least they got to do ____. These are experiences with premium pricing–the product should absolutely live up to that and the marketing. Holding company’s accountable and not just accepting whatever is a vital role of consumers.
We took the DCL 7-day Merrytime cruise from Galveston in 2018. On the 7-day, there was a Deck the Deck party that we enjoyed, in addition to the specialty-themed characters. We also enjoyed Santa and Storytime with Mrs. Claus. We thought it was a good balance of a typical Disney cruise alongside Christmas cheer.
Good to know the 7-night cruise also has a deck party. Thanks for the info!
Not on our fantasy 7-night merry time cruise this year so I don’t think it is a consistent offering.
We took the Merrytime Cruise last December 2018 for 7 nights. Our family really loved every moment of it with the events, shows, etc. In fact, we enjoyed being on the ship so much more than excursions at our stops in the Caribbean. Our children could have stayed all day, every day on the ship and they would’ve been perfectly happy.
We’d agree that Disney Cruise Line is exceptional and that exploring the ship and doing the normal programming provides a ton to do over the course of an entire cruise.
It’s tough to separate the two, but our quibble is that the Christmas elements, specifically, were underwhelming to the point that you might as well go in January, pay significantly less money, and just enjoy a “normal” cruise.
I love your DCL posts, and wish you’d share more details about your experiences! I have other enjoyable DCL information sources, but since this is my favorite and most trusted Disney blog, I want to hear more of your thoughts! Thanks for being such a great resource.
What, specifically, would you like to see more of in terms of DCL content?
We have a decent number of DCL posts here: https://www.disneytouristblog.com/tag/disney-cruise-line/
I’ve thought about doing more dining reviews and info posts about ship, but planning-wise, DCL is so easy (compared to the parks) that those almost seem pointless.
Because your writing is so enjoyable, it would be great to see you do more DCL dining reviews, as well as your take on some of the higher-end suites, excursions and on-board activities. Not everyone uses the blog exclusively for planning purposes; rather we are experiencing the cruises and ports from a “Bricker-ized” perspective, and that’s the fun in reading what you’ve written!
Yeah, I agree with Erica – that a lot of it is just enjoying the ships vicariously. (And I’ve read all the previous DCL posts – they’re great!) But I’d most love to hear about excursions (booked through DCL or independently), the ports in general, and activities on board. Sometimes it’s hard to decide what how to prioritize your time on board, so knowing that trivia is more fun than crafts or the whisky tasting is better than the champagne (or whatever) is really helpful! Getting to see pictures of all the dining options can be useful, too.